I just read yet another survey where people think we won’t have any manufacturing jobs in 50 years (or pick your number). Robots and automation will do everything. We will all just sit around, be poor and miserable–except for the few owners.
That begs one essential question. If no one has money to buy things, then what will manufacturing produce? Think about it. Who would be able to buy gasoline, dish washing detergent, Oreo cookies? What we have is a virtuous circle: people have jobs -> people have money -> they buy things -> companies develop new things for them to buy -> people work at those companies to develop and manufacture things -> people have jobs-> etc.
We’ve invested in automation and robots for years. Productivity has not necessarily gone up as a direct result. Read between the lines of yesterday’s post from MAPI.
I’m not arguing from some abstract economic theory. Nor am I sanguine about automation. Nor from a Luddite point of view.
Automation and robots have replaced workers. But if you were in manufacturing plants prior to 1970 and then returned in 2000, you’d have been shocked. Jobs that literally destroyed the bodies of the workers over time had been redesigned such that repetitive lifting of 50 lb. to 75 lb. objects all day, for example, were no longer done manually. Manufacturing jobs that put people in harms’ way were now done with robots. People were moved to safety.
Plants are healthier, cleaner, safer than ever thought possible. Manufacturing jobs that remain are better paying, more satisfying, and safer than before.
Then let’s look at the human spirit. We were made to create.
I have visited the old city dump in Tijuana. A veritable city exists in the dump. People had no where to go. They moved to the dump. They scrounged around and found things with which to build simple houses. The last time I was there I was amazed. People (probably women) had done many things to make those shacks in the dump livable. I saw curtains of a type on the windows. People trying to plant flowers. I wondered how many people were electrocuted climbing up utility poles to tap into the electrical grid so that their house could have some electrical appliances.
It’s a dump. It’s a terrible place to live. The human spirit of the people was amazing. They made the best of what they had.
I didn’t grow up in an upper middle class enclave. I grew up in a small town where all social classes (OK, we didn’t have many of them) mingled. I hung out with “rednecks” as an adolescent. Guys that drank cheap beer and worked on cars. They could do mechanical things that few today can do. Sort of the spirit of the old blacksmiths who build all manner of things for people.
The spirit to build and create is human. We can organize a macro economy any way we want. We’ll still have people figuring out things to do to help people and figuring out ways to do it.